In “Maps to the Stars,” a full-frontal assault on the self-absorbed entertainment industry in the guise of a horror movie, David Cronenberg views Hollywood as a town rife with mentally and morally deficient people possessing homicidal tendencies, incestuous desires and enough phobias to overwhelm a Beverly Hills shrink.
All of which doesn’t show much gratitude from this Toronto lad whose films have always gotten the star treatment from the town.
These views do represent a collaboration, it should be noted, between Cronenberg, who early in his career made cheap though eerie horror flicks in Canada, and writer Bruce Wagner, who has spent much of his career writing poison pen letters to SoCal in such films as “Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills” and “I”m Losing You.”
The challenge in dredging up such stock Hollywood characters and then mixing them with horror-flick tropes lies in coming up with anything the least bit original. Here the film stumbles badly — although maybe not so much stumbles as pitches forward onto a sharp object in the hopes someone will either giggle or gasp at the blood.
Did I mention a dog gets shot for no particular reason? That’s always good for a chuckle.
There is cleverness in the delayed revelations of some of the connections among the story’s many characters. And the very outlandishness of these show-biz caricatures is amusing for a while.
But once those connections get established, the characters begin to wear out their welcome. So all the movie can do is push each subplot into extremely bad or violent endings.
The movie begins with the old cliché of a young girl getting off the bus in Hollywood, eager for glimpses of celebs and perhaps to make her own claim for fame. She has even established an email buddyship with one celeb.
“For a disfigured schizophrenic, you seem to have got this town wired,” he says admiringly.
She winds up with a job as personal assistant to an aging actress Havana Segrand (newly anointed Oscar winner Julianne Moore, over-emoting but somehow making the most of it). Havana’s current obsession is, bizarrely, to land a role her late actress-mother, Clarice, made famous.
This is the very same mother, a film star in the ‘60s, whose ghost (Sarah Gadon) continues to haunt Havana’s waking dreams. The movie’s ghosts don’t end there.
The film’s most outrageous character is a Bieberesque 13-year-old brat star, Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), a kid with a huge TV show, an even bigger movie demanding a sequel and a drug problem that required rehab without the media ever getting wind of it. (That’s the least likely aspect to this movie.)
The kid is impossible, insulting to all adults, rude to a young girl who will soon die (and, yes, she does come back to haunt him) and parents who are his enablers.
His manager-mother Cristina (Olivia William), when not indulging him, can always see the upside to down. Meanwhile dad (John Cusack) is a self-help TV guru and physical therapist with a clientele that includes, yes, Havana.
Everything takes place at parties, clubs and homes stuffed with overprivilege with sex acts thrown in to … what, shock us? Can sex scenes still shock audiences — at least the audience Cronenberg is courting? Doubtful.
What does maybe shock is that he thinks any of this will shock. Or maybe that Moore, who famously did a nude scene while ironing her clothes in Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts,” can still do nude scenes so many years later and get away with it. Bravo on that count.
The problem with all this cynical, above-it-all snideness is that you can get the same from TMZ or so many other places. And the grotesque plot turns and horror feel like so much dead weight.
Is that all that’s on your mind? one wants to ask the writer and director. How to put this: This doesn’t feel like a movie where grown-ups were involved. It ultimately is just too damn silly.
Well, this is a Canadian-German production helmed by a film veteran who never shot a foot of film inside Hollywood before and acts like all this will be a revelation. Entertainment people are shallow? Stars have super egos? Stop the presses.
Oh, by the way, in the film’s money shot, someone gets bludgeoned to death with an award statute. IMDb tells me that the one Cronenberg chose is a Genie Award, formerly presented for film achievement in Canada before its discontinuation in 2012. At least Cronenberg, who has won five Genies, gets in one dig at his hometown rather than La-La-Land.
Opens: February 27, 2015 (Focus World)
Production companies: Entertainment One, Prospero Pictures, Starmaps Productions/SBS Productions, Integral Film
Cast: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird, Sarah Gadon, Niamh Wilson, Dawn Greenhalgh, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson
Director: David Cronenberg
Screenwriter: Bruce Wagner
Producers; Martin Katz, Said Ben Said
Executive producers: Renee Tab, Patrice Theroux, Benedict Carver
Director of photography: Peter Suschitzky
Production designer: Carol Spier
Music: Howard Shore
Costume designer: Denise Cronenberg
Editor: Ronald Sanders
R rating, 111 minutes